Thursday, December 19, 2013

By embracing the dark side, we conquer the dark side

Ain't it always the first thing mentors and other authors say, whenever they're talking to fledgling writers? It's the same bit of advice that gets trotted out, and it goes like this: "Write what you know."

The thing is, though, that it's absolutely true. That's a large part of the reason why my first book, Messiah's Shard, starts off in a small village just up the road from Sheffield (plus, of course, I couldn't resist the idea of a big, epic science fiction novel being set just up the road from me; there's something ever so slightly awesome about that). The fictional village from which our hero hails, Brakenthorpe, is even based on a village where I spent a big chunk of time when I was a teen (school friends lived there, y'see), and another big chunk after I turned 18, although when we went on the swings after we'd ostensibly hit adulthood, we were considerably less sober.

The point is that anyone who lives in that real world village would find the fictional little hamlet of Brakenthorpe to be hauntingly familiar, because, well, write what you know. It doesn't end there, though...

The thing about me as a writer, y'see, is that I find writing to be a massively cathartic experience. In a way, it doesn't matter what ills are assailing the world, because I can deal with them by letting them inspire bits of my books. When bad things happen in the real world, it's kinda nice to have eerily similar bad things being thwarted by the good guys, in the fictional world.

The vengeance exacted for these bad things is always extraordinarily karmic, believe me...

Anyway, the thing that provoked me to write this post was something I saw while wandering aimlessly about the internet (as one does), and things might take a bit of a dark turn here; basically, I saw something on Facebook, and then had a quick exchange with someone not on Facebook, about the whole topic of capital punishment.

It's something I don't agree with, because there's always the possibility of a wrongful execution of someone innocent (far, far worse than wrongful imprisonment, because there's no coming back from it), but what really got me thinking was when the other person said to me, "Well, what would you do with evil people who are clearly guilty?"

The answer is, of course, that I'm a writer; I can think of far, far worse things to do to the "evil people", than merely executing them.

Extraordinary karmic vengeance, remember?

I've always felt that the key to what makes really powerful writing is an author who embraces their own dark side, and pours it into the work, along with their own light side.For me, at least, writing is a way to exorcise my own personal demons, or at least, smack them about with a very big stick till they stop being a pain in the bum.

Believe it or not, that was one of my goals with Messiah's Shard. I may have wanted it to play out across an epic canvas, but the core story was about loss and loneliness. About isolation and despair.

And, of course, about overcoming those things, about finding the strength to beat them.

They say that a writer should always write what he knows. I decided to try something a little different with Messiah's Shard. In amongst the ancient evil of Ragnarok, the lost Aztlani civilisation, the alien race whose sentient starship is clearly an 12,000 year old lush... in amongst all that, I wanted to write what everyone knows, the journey to self-realisation which every human undertakes.

Thus, while the tale may be writ large across the galactic canvas, the message of the story is simple: we can overcome. No matter the odds, the demons (of either the personal or the spiky, universe-hopping variety) can be beaten.

And by embracing our own dark sides, we can conquer them...

[Image: Google Maps]

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